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A tribute to the man who brought ‘Nationalism’ to our drawing rooms

Most people I meet are a little bewildered when I tell them that I cast my lot with the nationalists in the RSS and the BJP. This isn’t unusual for me and I’m quite used to (and secretly delight in) their expressions of shock and dismay.

I’m still struggling to digest the fact that Arun Jaitley is no longer around, but I’d like to pay tribute to a gentleman who was instrumental to my politics.

Most people I meet are a little bewildered when I tell them that I cast my lot with the nationalists in the RSS and the BJP. This isn’t unusual for me and I’m quite used to (and secretly delight in) their expressions of shock and dismay. How could a fairly broad-minded, foreign-educated guy who fits in perfectly into liberal drawing-room conversations support ‘them’?! For that, you can thank (or blame) Arun Jaitley.

Most of you know Arun Jaitley by his achievements (of which there are many) – first ABVP leader to win the DUSU elections; imprisoned for more than a year during the Emergency; Additional Solicitor General at the age of 37; super successful General Secretary and party strategist who delivered impressive election victories (most notably chasing out Digvijay Singh from Madhya Pradesh in 2003 and Lalu Prasad Yadav from Bihar in 2005, besides installing the first BJP government in Karnataka in 2008); Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha; and the de facto ranking Cabinet Minister (holding the Finance and (albeit briefly) Defence portfolios) in NDA-II.

Well before I trained with the RSS and spent time in the ABVP, before I ever picked up a book on Indian politics, when I was just a teenager looking to learn a thing or two about Indian politics following the 2004 national elections results and in the wake of a new government that counted amongst its top ministers men and women who had graduated from Harvard and Cambridge (the kind of institutions my parents encouraged me to aspire to be a part of), Arun Jaitley gave a voice to common sense nationalist impulses in a way that was effective, reasonable and unbelievably smooth. At a time when the English media had nothing nice to say about the BJP and the Sangh was painted out by the media to be a bunch of unreconstructed lumpen elements that resisted any notion of modernity and liberty, Arun Jaitley did yeoman’s service in making nationalism cool to my generation.

As time passed by and I grew more steeped in nationalist ideology and national politics grew more partisan (the Congress’ infinitely stupid decision to make the RSS out to be a terrorist organisation is the watershed moment in my view), I confess to finding Jaitley to be insufficiently ideological, heavily reliant on the bureaucracy and frustratingly bipartisan. His tenure as a ‘tax and spend’ Finance Minister was a particular disappointment and I really do wish he had been shifted out to a different, less important portfolio. The BJP has three articles of faith: the construction of a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code; and the ‘abolition’ of Art. 370. Among the three, I think the one Jaitley cared about the most was Art. 370 and he must have been pleased to see that achieved in his lifetime (in so small part thanks to his efforts).

For all his faults, Arun Jaitley was a man who loved his country more than anything else and his country benefitted greatly from his hard work and commitment. He lived an extraordinary life and will be remembered fondly for his many achievements, but for me, his greatest achievement lies in swinging me (and many others like me) to the political right. And so, from a one-time fan and ever-grateful karyakarta, let me say: “Thank you, Mr Jaitley!”

(Adhitya Srinivasan is an ABVP karyakarta who holds law degrees from National Law Institute University, Bhopal and Harvard Law School)

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